Katowice Affirms Importance of Globally Transforming Transport

The transport sector finally takes centre stage in climate debates

Christian Hochfeld, Alexander Jung

At the 2015 Paris Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the world community adopted specific targets for climate protection for the very first time. Three years later, in December 2018, the 24th COP set another key milestone in international climate change policy. During the two weeks of negotiations in the Polish city of Katowice, the UN member states agreed on a rulebook intended to ensure the implementation of the Paris target: namely, to limit global warming to well below two degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. The conference also spotlighted the importance of the transport sector – an area previously neglected in climate debates.

The transport sector is the second largest emitter of CO2 from energy use

Releasing a total of 7.87 Gt (2016), the transport sector contributes around a quarter of the world’s CO2 emissions originating from the combustion of fossil fuels. This makes it the second-largest emitter of energy-related CO2 emissions after the power sector.1  Road vehicles are the main source of these emissions, with cars alone responsible for close to half of global transport emissions with adverse climate effects. When heavy-duty vehicles and motorized two- and three-wheelers are included, road transportation accounts for more than two-thirds of all CO2 emissions in the sector. Passenger and freight transportation have played equal parts in driving this development. CO2 emissions from these sources increased by 23% (passenger) and 21% (freight) between 2005 and 2015.2

The bulk of these emissions come from the G20 nations. However, increasing emission levels in the developing world represent a particularly acute challenge in terms of climate protection. Greenhouse gas emissions in industrialized nations and the developing world will need to fall virtually to zero by mid-century. Otherwise, delivery of the promise made back in 1992 at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro – to prevent “dangerous interference with the climate system” – will be pushed back even further. According to current forecasts, global greenhouse gas emissions from transport could more than double by mid-century if countermeasures are not taken quickly. This means that the Paris climate change targets will be out of reach unless there is an immediate transition to clean transport.3

COP24 places the transport sector at the heart of climate negotiations for the first time

COP24 marked the first occasion in which the importance of the transport sector was given more prominent attention in international climate change negotiations. The Polish COP24 presidency identified three focal areas of the conference: sustainable forest management; a socially responsible approach to structural change; and electric vehicles. The conference proceedings underlined that, in addition to protecting the climate, new green technologies can help to ensure clean air and create new jobs. The Polish COP presidency supported this message with the initiative Driving Change Together – Katowice Partnership for E-Mobility, which was announced in the lead-up to the UN climate summit by Michał Kurtyka (Polish environment secretary and COP24 president) and Richard Harrington (British minister for business and industry). Their goal is to build a network of national governments, regions, cities, non-governmental organizations, and businesses to forge ahead with the development of electric transportation systems at the local and international levels. The partnership of 42 countries – including Germany, France, China, and India – was signed in short order during the negotiations. The initial signatories also include four regions and cities, as well as 18 companies and non-governmental organizations, such as the World Bank and the International Energy Agency. 

The text of the agreement states that the objectives of the Paris agreement can only be achieved by decarbonizing the transportation sector. In this connection, efforts will be required at all levels of government, national, regional and local. These efforts will not only pay off in terms of protecting the climate, but will also help to combat the environmentally harmful impacts of road transport, such as urban air pollution. However, the mere adoption of zero-emission vehicles is not sufficient for the transformation of the transport sector. Better spatial and urban planning, as well as strategic investment – particularly in infrastructure for public and non-motorized transport – are also considered by the signatories to be an indispensable part of the effort to transform transport. Against this backdrop, the members of the Katowice Partnership for E-Mobility want to take concrete steps to reduce emissions from road transport, while taking the following objectives into account. 

They hope to accelerate the shift toward zero-emission vehicles by:

  • committing to a future with a zero-emission transport sector;
  • increasing demand for zero-emission vehicles through customer incentives and fleet targets for zero-emission vehicles;
  • and working together internationally to press ahead with the development of zero-emission vehicles on a global level. 

They aim to encourage market growth by:

  • rolling out environmentally friendly public transportation to improve health in cities and other localities;
  • building an intelligent infrastructure network for the cities and other subnational authorities of the future, including charging infrastructure for zero-emission vehicles;
  • and increasing the air quality standards in cities and other municipalities. 

They want to forge ahead with the development of innovative advances in technology and manufacturing by:

  • supporting research and development of zero-emission technologies, and promoting investment in the development and improvement of emission-free vehicle technologies;
  • promoting a sustainable circular economy to reduce emissions throughout the supply chain;
  • and moving ahead with cleaner production of hydrogen and electricity to reduce emissions over the long term.4

To make the transformation of the transport sector a success, social balance must be ensured

By focusing on electric vehicles, the Polish COP presidency sent a clear message to the approximately 20,000 attendees in Katowice: The transportation sector must become a top priority in international climate policy.

On this note, the Polish government also put a socially responsible approach to structural change in industry at the front and center of the conference. Indeed, ensuring a just transition is a matter of paramount importance for the success of the transport transformation. It is essential for guaranteeing the broad-based acceptance of the structural change that has already begun in the automotive industry, as well as for ensuring that the transport systems of the future are affordable and equitable. Collective action on electric vehicles will demonstrate that joint efforts across national boundaries can pay off: specifically, international collaboration will help to provide planning security for the private sector, thus reducing the cost of manufacturing zero-emission vehicles. Furthermore, it will help to ensure socially equitable decisions in the early stages of planning for structural change.

Ambition alone will not put a stop to global warming

At the end of two weeks of negotiations, the nearly 200-strong group of countries agreed on a rulebook that intends to ensure the implementation of the Paris agreement. This rulebook governs a range of issues, including the way countries should document their climate targets and report on their greenhouse gas emissions, in order to provide transparency and comparability in their environmental efforts. However, that alone will not be enough to limit global warming to well below two degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. Binding requirements and, in particular, an agreement on specific practical measures to limit global warming are still needed. To put it simply, thanks to COP24, we will know with greater precision just how far we are from the Paris agreement’s goal. But it does not bring us closer to achieving this goal. Nonetheless, the 24th UN climate change conference in Katowice was a step in the right direction when it comes to the transport sector. For the first time, it raised awareness that a global transition to green transport must be initiated immediately to meet the two degree goal.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres ended the climate summit by stating: “From now on, my five priorities will be: ambition, ambition, ambition, ambition, and ambition. Ambition in mitigation. Ambition in adaptation. Ambition in finance. Ambition in technical cooperation and capacity building. Ambition in technological innovation.” The hope is that this call to action will not go unheeded. But above all, we must hope that another ambition is added to the mix: ambition in policy implementation – especially in transport. 5

IEA (2018): CO2-Emissions from fuel Combustion.

2SLoCaT (2018).Transport and Climate Change Global Status Report 2018.

3Agora Verkehrswende; GIZ (2018): Towards Decarbonising Transport 2018 – A Stocktake on Sectoral Ambition in the G20.

4Ministry of Environment, Poland; Ministry for Business and Industry, United Kingdom (2018): Driving Change Together – Katowice Partnership on E-Mobility.


Website United Nations News (2018): At COP24, countries agree concrete way forward to bring the Paris climate deal to life. URL: news.un.org/en/story/2018/12/1028681. Letzter Zugriff: 20.12.2018.  


All posts by Christian Hochfeld, Alexander Jung

All Content

Stay in touch. Subscribe to our newsletter.